Arson, the deliberate act of setting fire to property or structures in Ohio is a serious criminal offense. The consequences of being charged with such a crime can be devastating, as the defendant could be facing a hefty prison sentence for a felony offense. Not only that but defendants convicted of arson are also required to register.
Because of the danger to life and recidivism (likelihood to repeat) an arson registry has been established to monitor and track arson offenders. In this article we will dive into the concept of arson, the criminal charges that ensue, and the implications of arson on individuals and communities.
What Is Considered Arson?
Arson can encompass a variety of activities, but all involve the intentional setting of fire with malicious intent. Factors that affect the severity of the charges include the following.
- Extent of property damage
- Presence of human victims
The charge for arson is most commonly a felony of the 4th degree, but charges can range from a misdemeanor of the 1st degree to a felony of the 3rd degree. Law enforcement will use the factors involved to determine what level of charges to apply.
- First-Degree Arson (Most severe) - The deliberate destruction of a building where people may be present.
- Second-Degree Arson - When the act targets an unoccupied structure or the risk to human life is very low.
- Third-Degree Arson - The burning of personal property or wildlands that is uninhabited, unless it continues into an inhabited area or is a government-protected area.
- Aggravated Arson - Severe injuries or death occurs or explosive devices, incendiary, or accelerants, such as gasoline are used. Aggravated arson can carry hefty prison sentences.
Ohio Revised Code 2909.03 contains the Ohio statute on arson and arson-related charges.
Implications of a Criminal Investigation of Arson
If you or someone you know is contacted by law enforcement regarding an open arson investigation, it is wise to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. One of the most common mistakes innocent people make is asking law enforcement, “Do I need an attorney?” Police are not legal counsel, so they cannot advise a defendant. The accused must clearly state that he/she wants legal counsel prior to speaking with law enforcement.
Retained counsel will gather critical information, such as proximity, intent, risk of life, property damage/values, and potential financial burdens for victims, and help a defendant determine possible consequences of their statements and/or a conviction.
The arson registry in Ohio was enacted in 2013 and is similar to the sex offender registry in that a convicted person must register with the county sheriff’s office for life. The purpose of the registry is to make the offender’s name, photograph, and address available to the public.
Law enforcement can also use the list to quickly identify suspects that live in the area of any suspicious fires.
In addition to a lifetime of monitoring by law enforcement, a negative of being on the arson registry is that it can lead to neighbors or others taking matters into their own hands. Members of the public may go out of their way to observe and even infringe upon the arson offender’s individual privacy rights.
A criminal defense attorney can assist by submitting a motion to reduce the lifetime registration. However, it will only be reduced by a judge if the prosecutor AND the law enforcement agency involved in the case agree to the recommendation.
How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help With An Arson Charge?
If you or someone you know is being investigated or has been charged with arson, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. A defense attorney can generally make the best impact on a case when retained at the initial stages of the investigation.
- A common defense to arson charges is misidentification. A criminal defense attorney can often help communicate this to detectives.
- A defense attorney can coordinate the defendant’s statement to the police.
- A defense attorney can review police procedures to ensure the defendant’s constitutional rights are followed.
- An experienced defense attorney can fight for a defendant’s rights in the case of a trial.
- A criminal defense firm can mitigate the consequences of a conviction, helping to reduce the sentence
A felony arson conviction carries serious consequences including jail time, years of community control, and a lifetime of registration. Speak to an experienced criminal defense firm today!
Written by The Law Office of Brian Jones, LLC & Jones Holistic Defense
-Dr. Benjamin Jackoby, Dr. “Hank” Jackoby
- Ohio Laws and Administrative Rules, ORC 2909.03